Historian Robert Caro has spent almost 40 years studying and writing about President Lyndon B. Johnson. The result of that toil, in addition to two Pulitzer prizes, is about 3,388 pages so far on Johnson's life.
The fourth volume, "Passage of Power," has just published.
In the web exclusive video above, Caro talks about why Johnson could get things done in Washington and gives an example of what he calls Johnson's legislative genius in action.
On Sunday's GPS show interview, Caro said Johnson could offer today's politicians - and president - lessons on wielding power. Below is an excerpt of that interview. (Watch the entire interview on Sunday's GPS episode on iTunes)
ZAKARIA: Contrast the style of Lyndon Johnson with this enormous legislative accomplishment [the Civil Rights Act], with the style of Barack Obama, as you have seen him.
CARO: Well, I know I'm supposed to say that there's this great contrast and Obama hasn't done enough, but I feel Obama was faced with some real problems that we hardly remember anymore: the extent of the financial crisis. I happen to think he has made great strides.
You know, people find a lot wrong with health care legislation, Fareed, as do I, the bill that's passed. But I keep remembering something that Lyndon Johnson said. Once we pass it, we can always go back and amend it. And I feel it was an accomplishment to get a health care bill.
ZAKARIA: But what about the issue that people raise about just the style of it - which is, he delegated too much of the stimulus or even health care to Congress. Do you think he should have been more active? Or, the alternative view is, look, the Republicans are very strong. The important thing is to get something done. Would Johnson have taken a more activist role?
CARO: You can answer that definitely. Johnson would have been on the phone every minute with the leaders of Congress. I mean, to watch him work on peopl ... Everybody says Johnson was always talking. Not so. You listen to him on with - when he wants somebody - when he wants something from somebody - he will let the senator talk and he will let the senator talk, and all you hear from Johnson sometimes is uh-huh, uh-huh. Until he hears what he wants to hear. What's the lever he can push with this guy? What does he want? And then Johnson starts speaking.
You know, in this book Kennedy has a tax cut bill. It's snarled in the finance committee. Someone calls him at, like, 12:00 exactly and say they've just broken for lunch, and we're three votes short. We're not going to get the bill through. Johnson says who are they? And the guy names the three senators. Johnson says to his secretary, get them on the phone for me one after the other.
One is Abe Ribicoff. He says you know, Abe, I put you on whatever committee he put you on. He says I want you to help me.
Ribicoff says, well, I have already persuaded my constituents. I'll lose face. Lyndon Johnson says to him, you save my face today, I'll save your face tomorrow. And Ribicoff knows that Johnson is a bad man to cross, but a good man to have on your side.
One of the other senators wants something, has to do with a mineral bill. Johnson says he will give it to him.
In 14 minutes if I have that right, the exact time is in my book, he has turned these three senators around. So if you want to know a contrast in style, Lyndon Johnson was a contrast with everyone else. He was the greatest legislator certainly since Roosevelt and perhaps even including Roosevelt. He was a legislative genius.
It seems impossible to pass a voting rights act in 1965. He does it vote by vote. And it's almost - you know, if you care about - my books are really about political power. If you care about political power, you say there never was a man with a talent - a talent that is beyond a talent - a gift that's beyond a gift. There never was anyone who could do this like Johnson.